Choose Your Own Adventure

When I was six, my family moved to India. My sister, who was ten at the time, liked scouring secondhand bookstores from the British colonial era with my dad. I believe it was there that she found her reason for attending boarding school: a series of books about a boarding school for English girls in Austria before World War II. Though there was a total of 62 books in the series, my sister and I made it through about 30 before we declared ourselves both too old and too broke to handle any more. These stories were an extremely important part of my childhood. The characters weren’t the sort of let’s-learn-sewing-and-French-and-marry-at-sixteen schoolgirls either, mind you. They learned four languages, went to Oxford and the Sorbonne and became scientists and historians. They hiked up mountains, fell off cliffs and got stuck in blizzards. They escaped the Tyrol region after the Germans invaded, hiked to the Swiss border and hoodwinked the Gestapo. When I was ten, my sister left for Andover and I imagined her somewhat like Jo Bettany, our favorite heroine from the stories: hair cut short, playing lacrosse in little skirts with as much wit and power as anyone. I knew that the modern boarding-school girl was not likely to be the same as what I had imagined. Still, as my arrival to PA steadily approached, I imagined myself feeling quite as adventurous (Well, not quite. They did fight the Nazis, after all) and empowered as Jo and her clan. I imagined that, at Andover, I could “have it all.” After almost five terms at Andover, I’ve begun to wonder: What sort of adventures have I really experienced after my transition from the monotony of Iowa to the foretold “fantastic opportunities” of boarding school? Have I ever really felt empowered like those girls in the stories we read as kids? Sadly enough, I have not. And although I may have dramatized the transition a bit, were the expectations really so unreachable? After all, even the community service opportunities (some with fantastic trips and wonderful brochures) somehow leave the bad taste of college in my mouth. Feeling overworked and unfulfilled is not always the easiest route to becoming empowered. It seems that goals change over the course of every assignment, even the most interesting ones. “This is so cool!” becomes, “I have three days,” which becomes, “Just get it done during conference and scrape out a four.” Sometimes I wonder whether a school really exists where you feel disciplined but liberated, adventurous but grounded and challenged without suffering from back-aching, head-throbbing stress. If not here, then where? Perhaps in Austria, circa 1936, but certainly not in this community of students, where college is constantly around the corner, and we play the never-ending game of “Let’s see whose Friday sucks more.” Though new opportunities are thrust under our noses at every moment, every new responsibility sits upon our shoulders like lead. We struggle under a burden of checks and balances, like choosing between friends or a wicked history paper and varsity sports or community service. In order to become a modern-day Jo Bettany, the enthusiastic, overachieving, four-sport-playing, community-service-touting powerhouse of womanhood, would I end up without friends? If not without friends, surely without sleep. Even at Andover, where we’re supposed to “have it all,” it’s hard to feel powerful, successful or indestructible when you can only do so much. And, when I leave here, will I regret all the opportunities I passed up? Would I want to revisit all the invitations to Andover Barbecue Society, the chances to take weekend trips and the times I could have gone to see Pulitzer Prize-winning novelists? Weighing all the commitments I simply can’t give up, I wonder if they will just all become a blur of boarding school anxiety, with no triumphs and only regret for the pursuits I passed up. I suppose we can only hope for the best and wait to see how we feel walking to Sam Phil on graduation day. Maybe making these choices—cherishing commitments, working hard at what I want right now—will empower me to continue to trust my choices in the future. After all, that’s really being powerful, isn’t it? Making your choice and putting your full force behind your passions, even if it means letting go of a whim or making the wrong choice. Is that “having it all?” I sure hope so, because that’s what I’ve got. Take that, Jo Bettany. Thea Raymond-Sidel is a two-year Lower from Iowa City, Iowa.